When to Replace a Climbing Rope
While there's no exact time when you should replace a rope, here are some things to consider
The spring rock season is here. Over the past few seasons, your climbing gear has likely been sitting in a bin, getting beat up at a climbing gym or abused on the ice. Either way, it’s a good idea to take the time to inspect all of your equipment before heading to the crag.
From ropes and harnesses to climbing shoes and quickdraws, the climber’s rack can be light and minimal, but every piece plays an important role in keeping you safe. While some climbers like to use their gear until it nearly falls apart, remember that everything has a limited life span and replacing old or damaged gear should be a priority. If you’re climbing with a new partner, be sure to inspect their rack and rope before heading up.
Rope replacement: There is not exact lifetime of a rope, which makes it hard to know when they should be retired. There is a fine line between getting the most out of your investment and risking your life. Some rope companies have online videos of how to inspect your rope. Every rope comes with a manual that is worth reading.
There’s a lot of technology that goes into modern climbing ropes and many options on the market. But the basics still apply: they are made of a core (strength of rope) and a sheath (protects the core), can come in static or dynamic and lengths vary from 20 metres (glacier travel) to 100 metres (big routes).
Almost all ropes come with a fall rating from the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alinisme (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation or UIAA) that range from five to 12 (the number of high-factor falls the rope can handle before replacement). High-factor falls are not small whippers, rather the big impact ones.
There are a number of things that weaken your rope: age (even if you haven’t used it can become less dynamic), UV rays (degrade sheath), friction with carabiners (generates heat), water and dirt. Signs of wear include discolouration, flat spots, core shots and stiffness. If in doubt of your rope’s dependability, ask more experienced climbers.
To protect your rope, use a rope bag, switch ends for leading, and limit high-factor falls. Inspect your rope every time you climb by flaking it out and running it through your hands. If you have any doubt about your ropes integrity, get a new one and turn your old one into a rope rug.
When to Replace Your Rope
After a fall with extreme loads or other damage: immediately.
Frequent use (weekly): 1 year or sooner.
Regular use (few times per month): 1–3 years.
Occasional use (once per month): 4–5 years.
Rare use (1–2 times per year): 7 years.
Never used: 10 years.